Ronald Thwaites | The politics of life and death
One of her breasts is really enlarged and she says she feels lumps. The hospital has sent her to get tests that she can’t afford out of her little hustling or from what she can ‘tek, mi don’t teef” from the old married man who visits her most Sunday afternoons.
Then her 17-year-old daughter in 10th grade has just presented her with a baby to support so she, the daughter, can go back to school. No use talking about the babyfather because he is only 18 himself, and she and him ‘no deh again’ since him breed a next girl over by the beach.
Despite the expense and trouble of another mouth to feed, Grandma has taken the baby, remembering that she was once in the same situation, and not least because of her guilt feelings, having told her daughter in disappointment and anger, when the pregnancy was first admitted, that she should “dash whe dat belly”. But now she looks at the beautiful little child.
Dr Tufton had promised a few months ago that diagnostic tests not available at public facilities will be paid for by the Government at private facilities, but she isn’t a beneficiary of that system. Yes, the Ministry of Health and Wellness has a compassionate fund, but the money is small and the line is very long.
Since the member of parliament can’t afford the $60,000, especially at back-to-school time, the death sentence is closing in.
Desperate, she fires her penultimate shot. “Look how long me a run up and down with the politics and now it can’t help me. Mi done wid it.” When there is no reply, the tears of pleading follow: “ All right, mi a go support your candidate inna the PNP race. I did beg the other people, but them nah say nuttin. Is just a likke help mi a look now or else mi a go dead, and who will mind the baby?”
While we are speaking, Nigel is rationalising away the reality of increasing poverty. What is he really saying? Do we expect more remittances from Trump’s America for the prosperity to reach the likes of my lady? Or maybe she must depend on more election-related spending? Isn’t it true that more than a third of Jamaican households depend on remittances all now? And what about the working multitude I know who live on credit card for last month’s expenses which absorb two-thirds of next month’s pay and so on month after month, until the usurer’s interest and fees put them in real trouble.
Very often that crisis comes around back-to-school time. There is a grade-six PEP book and supply list which a parent and book merchant have costed above $50,000 – and that doesn’t account for the auxilary fees, uniforms, lunch and bus fare, not to mention extra lessons. It will need close to $100,000 to fully equip a high-school student for September morning.
This is the reality which the majority of our people live with and which the present system of political economy cannot adequately address. If we are not careful, we are pricing the tools of prosperity – health and education – out of the reach of those for whom we say it is intended.
The ruling JLP tells us that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of luxury apartments, built because of the stimulus given by the taxpayer in the last Budget, which can’t rent or sell, but there is no decent housing being built in the inner cities. You can buy the most expensive car in the world, but there is no decent public transportation system. The interest rate on an agricultural loan is twice that to buy an old car.
So, in whose interest is this country being developed as it begins its 58th year of Independence?
The sick lady left, empty-handed, saying that God will provide.
Ronald Thwaites is member of parliament for Kingston Central and opposition spokesman on education and training. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.